Laureation address: Professor Bahram Beyzaie

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters
Laureation by Professor Ali Ansari

Thursday 22 June 2017

Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, Professor Bahram Beyzaie.

Bahram Beyzaie is a leading Iranian playwright, filmmaker, and scholar of global performance traditions, cinema and mythology.

Drawing on the rich cultural heritage of his native country, Iran, along with its often-disputatious politics, Beyzaie has been instrumental in reinterpreting and re-presenting Iran’s ancient mythology and dramatic rituals for a modern audience. He has achieved this through the production of twelve feature films, five monographs and more than 100 plays and film scripts. His landmark ‘anti-war’ film, Bashu: the Little Stranger (1986) was voted – in what is undoubtedly a highly competitive field – ‘the best Iranian film of all time’ by 150 Iranian film critics and scholars.

Growing up in the formative period of Iranian nationalism and being witness to the tumultuous events that led to the overthrow of the monarchy and the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979, Beyzaie’s work reflects his critical engagement with the notions of identity, modernity and cultural appropriation.

He is famous, among other things, for drawing on and reinterpreting pre-Islamic Iranian mythology largely, though by no means exclusively, reflected in the Shahnameh, or Book of Kings, an extensive poetic redaction of these historical myths produced by poet Ferdowsi in the tenth and eleventh centuries CE, and regarded by many in the Persian speaking world as the chief repository of their narratives of identity, from the creation of the world till the fall of the last great Persian dynasty – the Sasanians – to the Arab Muslim conquerors in the seventh century CE. Like most historical mythologies, it also widely interrogated as a reservoir of ethics and values, an educative text for princes and people alike.

Two of his plays particularly stand out for me. The first, on the mythical hero, Arash, adeptly turns the narrative of the hero on its head by critiquing the popular affectation, indeed obsession, with saviours, and the relegation of personal responsibility this entails. His poignant, Death of Yazdegird, about the fall of the last Sasanian monarch, which was staged in 1979 and filmed in 1981, is an apt metaphor for the fall of the Shah and the onset of the Islamic Revolution. Dealing with issues as diverse as the collapse of empires, identity and the nature of history, the play ends on a characteristically ambivalent – some may even say melancholy – note as people watch the transition from one order to another and wonder aloud whether the optimism of a new dawn may be misplaced.

Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to Iranian culture and the Arts, I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, on Professor Bahram Beyzaie.

Professor Ali Ansari
School of History